Friday, April 08, 2011

Feeling The Heat, Religion Edition

Perception is not reality; otherwise, perception wouldn't be called perception but, instead, reality.

Still, perception can exert a mighty impact upon mere mortals or even Presidents.

Barack Obama a Socialist? I'll show them- I'll cut income taxes for millionaires and billionaires. A free-spending liberal? I'll cut spending by $30-$45 billion during an economic slump, jeopardizing recovery from recession. Soft on terrorism? To heck with campaign promises, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad will be tried in military court demonstrating, as Slate's Dahlia Lithwick put it, "The only lesson learned is that Obama's hand can be forced. That there is no principle he can't be bullied into abandoning."

And it has happened yet again. Last August the Pew Research Center reported that 31% of people whom it had surveyed believe President Obama is a Christian, 18% believe he is a Muslim, and 43% don't know his religion. That would leave 8% as, presumably, uncertain whether they know his religion. After Obama had been President of the United States for 18 or 19 months, over two-thirds of the American public did not definitively accept the reality that Barack Obama is a card-carrying Christian. Not 69% of Republicans- 69% all Americans.

Whether one calls it ignorance, stupidity, bigotry, or perhaps even enlightened skepticism makes little difference except as it affects the public's perception of Barack Obama and his perception of their perception. And he is very, very concerned.

Although recent surveys of the same subject are hard to come by, we do know that the skepticism about Barack Obama's religious affiliation had increased since Pew's survey in March, 2009. Similarly, the skepticism then was higher than it was during the presidential campaign, when in March, 2008 Pew found that only 10% of the public believed Obama was a Muslim, 53% identified him as a Christian. and "about a third of Americans said they don't know what Obama's religious beliefs are."

Little wonder, then, that presidential nominee Obama would maintain in October, 2008 in an interview with the Detroit Free Press (excerpt in this article and by blogger/commenter Wendy Davis in Firedoglake)

That, I think is the kind of justice that I’m looking for — somebody who respects the law, doesn’t think that they should be making law … but also has a sense of what’s happening in the real world and recognizes that one of the roles of the courts is to protect people who don’t have a voice.

That’s the special role of that institution. The vulnerable, the minority, the outcast, the person with the unpopular idea, the journalist who is shaking things up. That’s inherently the role of the court. And if somebody doesn’t appreciate that role, then I don’t think they are going to make a very good justice.

That individual who sincerely advocated 28-29 months ago a Supreme Court justice who would protect "the vulnerable, the minority, the outcast, the person with the unpopular idea" now, as someone whose Christian leanings are doubted by so many voters, takes an incompatible view of the First Amendment's wall of separation between church and state. Davis reports

the High Court refused to overturn an Arizona law that allows taxpayers to receive a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit for their contributions to school scholarships even if they are for religious schools. The credit allowed is up to $500 per person or $1000 per couple.

Constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky remarks

The Obama administration’s brief supporting an Arizona law which creates a tax credit system which substantially benefits religious schools is inexplicable and deeply disappointing. Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn (Nos. 09-857 and 09-991), to be argued on Wednesday, November 3, does not involve a federal law and did not require any participation by the Obama administration. Yet, the Solicitor General’s office filed a brief for the United States which argues that taxpayers lack standing to challenge a state tax program which subsidizes religious schools and that this does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It is exactly the brief that would have been expected from the Bush administration, but disturbing to have come from the Obama Justice Department.

Obviously, Barack Obama as president has moved steadily to the right; hopefully, he'll move back to the center from his current, center-right stance. It's highly unlikely, however, when the Chief Executive continually accedes to the demands of conservatives and moderates, whom he fears, rather than of his supporters on the left, of whom he takes advantage. As Glenn Greenwald, cynically and realistically, notes

if you were a Democratic Party official, wouldn't you also ignore -- and, when desirable, step on -- the people who you know will support you no matter what you do to them? That's what a rational, calculating, self-interested, unprincipled Democratic politician should do....

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